We're playing silly muggers: William Donaldson's Week

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The Independent Online
I WAS sorry to read that my friend the Marquess of Blandford had been robbed at the front line - rather, that he would have been had the hole in the wall from which he was trying to extract some cash not swallowed up his card. All very frustrating, as Mrs Matthews and I discovered when we tried to pull the same stunt on a teenager who had a canary yellow Rasta hat the size of a pumpkin on his head.

And here's some good advice: don't go to the front line with Mrs Matthews if you're of a nervous disposition. She's nothing but trouble, and it's a wonder that what began as an innocent little outing didn't end up with the pair of us appearing in fuzzy focus on Crimewatch UK.

Let me explain. Mrs Matthews, who recently turned 95, has slowed down a bit of late. Last week she arrived at the betting shop armed, she thought, with the winner of the 2.30 at Fontwell, only to discover that the tapes had already gone up. She checked into hospital the same day and had a pacemaker fitted. Three days later she was skipping about like a two-year-old, and on Monday she caught up with me on the way to the launderette.

'Wake up, dear,' she said. 'It looks to me as if you could do with some of that cannabis resin stuff. I've been reading in the Independent that it's just what the doctor ordered for old folk like us. Can you get it?'

Foolishly, I said I could - imagining that it would entail no more than a quick trip to the prestigious Marquee restaurant in the West End, where my friend Dread the Head's the chef. When I rang him up, however, he said he'd moved his business to a wine bar in Brixton and that we must meet him in a pub in Coldharbour Lane. This isn't a particularly pleasant part of the world, so on the way by taxi I read the Riot Act to Mrs Matthews.

'I want you to behave yourself,' I said. 'We shall be penetrating deep into the front line, where it's not unknown for fights to break out among people who, according to the Sunday Telegraph, watch too much violence on television. I don't want you shouting the odds or causing a fracas.'

'Don't be silly, dear,' she said. 'I'm quite familiar with those parts of London where original sin, for some reason, has been more widely distributed than in Mayfair or Belgrave Square. I shall know exactly whom to speak to and whom to avoid.'

'Good,' I said.

'In my experience,' she said, 'those of an obviously criminal appearance are undercover old Bill; the smug-looking young men in gym shoes, accompanied by plain young women, are seeking, on behalf of independent television, to grass up wrongdoers from the back of a transit van; the ones vomiting on the pavement and punching each other in doorways are law-abiding social drinkers enjoying a night out; and the well-behaved people peacefully smoking from converted Coca- Cola cans are simply trying, as your distinguished colleague Keith Botsford once pointed out in the Independent, to feel middle class for a while. Don't worry, I'll look after you.'

My foot. When my friend Dread the Head joined us at the pub, she gave him five, asked him in her ear-splitting Edinburgh accent whether he had the stuff, took out her wedge and boastfully counted it at the bar. Dread the Head blanched - or he would have done had that been possible - and said not yet, we must wait here while he went to get it. Small wonder that after he had gone the barmaid told us to get out.

'I don't want your sort in here with your funny deals,' she said.

I was shaken, I can tell you. To be taken as the only obvious dealers in this highly suspect place was mortifying, especially as we were both looking our best. I'd been in court, so I was wearing my Old Wykehamist tie and pearl-grey Christian Dior suit, and Mrs Matthews is always well turned out.

Back on the street, and fearing that we might be mugged, I suggested that we mug someone ourselves, on the sensible grounds that muggers, presumably, rarely mug each other. Mrs Matthews thought this was a good idea, so we positioned ourselves next to a handy cash machine. Then I had a better idea. Fearful for the old dear's safety, I decided that I should be the lookout.

'There should always be a lookout,' I said. 'See you later.'

I positioned myself a hundred yards down the road, from where I could just see Mrs Matthews, armed with a rolled up copy of the Independent, standing over a chap in a canary yellow Rasta hat. A blow to the back of the neck and he'd go down like a sack of meal. I looked away.

'No good,' she said, joining me down the road. 'The machine swallowed his card.'

We got the stuff and on the way home I said how outrageous it was that old folk like us were forced to break the law.

'Nonsense,' she said. 'If the stuff were legal it would be like playing tennis without a net. Frost.'

'Sir David?'

'No, Robert. 'Provide,

provide . . .' '

She's a difficult old biddy. If she wants anything stronger, she can get it herself.